Moore bad news for the Donald
- Credit: Zuma Press/PA Images
Judge Roy Moore, a 70-year-old, far-right GOP Senate candidate, has been accused of a string of historical sexual assaults and sexual harassment offences, including one involving a 14-year-old girl.
And in American politics right now, he is getting an even worse press than the president.
The allegations focus on a period when Moore, then a fast-rising state prosecutor in his 30s, is said to have exhibited a sexual fixation with teenage girls half his age, according to his accusers and supported by several former legal colleagues.
Until the claims surfaced in the Washington Post, the gun-toting, cowboy-hat wearing, religion-spouting Moore looked a shoo-in to win Alabama's December 12 special election for the state's vacant Senate seat. Now polls show the GOP is likely to lose what should have been a safe seat in a conservative state to the Democrats.
Although Moore denies any wrong doing and claims to be the victim of a political witch hunt, the allegations have piled up. The GOP leadership on Capitol Hill has already come out on the side of his alleged victims and disowned their own candidate.
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Even Alabama's three biggest conservative newspapers combined for a front page editorial headlined: 'Stand for Decency, Reject Roy Moore'.
Yet pleas by national GOP leaders for Moore to step down were defiantly dismissed. Entreaties to the party's Alabama state leadership were rebuffed as they stuck by their man. Appeals from senior Republicans on Capitol Hill for Trump to step in and urge Moore to drop his candidacy also fell on deaf ears.
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Now it is too late for the scandal-soaked candidate to be removed from the ballot paper and the odds favour Democrat Doug Jones, a liberal former federal prosecutor who is the polar opposite to the judge on gun control and abortion among many other things, capturing a seat the GOP was counting on to maintain its knife-edge control of the Senate.
For Trump himself the Moore crisis represents a domestic problem to rival North Korea on the international front.
For starters, Moore was championed by the president's campaign mastermind and former White House strategy chief, Steve Bannon, now back at the helm of Breitbart News. Awkwardly, Trump originally backed Moore's rival and GOP establishment favourite Luther Strange and flew to Alabama to support him before being, well, 'trumped' by Bannon who followed the president in to campaign for Moore and played a decisive role in the white nationalist-backed candidate's triumph in the primary.
Significantly, Bannon remains a loud voice backing Moore despite the sex scandal. White House insiders suggest it was the president's dismay at backing the wrong horse in Alabama that proved pivotal in restoring Bannon as a premier influence on Trump's thinking.
Moore stands as a symbol of Bannon's master plan to overthrow the GOP establishment in Washington by running ultra-right wing candidates representing the America First, drain the swamp platform he created that landed Trump the White House.
When Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, Roy Moore held the unique 'distinction' of twice being removed from office for defying federal law, for refusing to remove a statue of the Ten Commandments he'd had erected outside the court building and for ordering junior judges to carry on enforcing a ban on same sex marriage even after it was ruled unconstitutional.
With a history of links to white nationalist groups and a conviction that Christianity should govern all public policy, Moore has condemned homosexuality and women's abortion rights while supporting the pro-gun lobby. He was an early champion of the disgraced Birther Movement that claimed Barack Obama wasn't really an American and was thus an 'illegal president'. Moore also founded a conservative charity, Foundation for Moral Law, which paid him more than $1 million.
Publicly Trump congratulated Moore on his primary victory, announcing that he'd made a mistake and pledged to campaign for him in his Senate election run. Privately, Trump railed at the GOP senate leader Mitch McConnell and his White House chief of staff General John Kelly, and even his daughter Ivanka and her husband, Jared Kushner, for advising him to campaign for the mainstream Strange rather than the maverick Moore.
But that was before the sex scandal erupted. Now, apparently, more cautionary voices are urging Trump not to fly to Alabama (as Bannon and Moore would like) to actively campaign for the GOP's 'compromised' candidate; they are telling him to keep his Twitter feed silent on the Moore case and warning the scandal could revive coverage of the women who have made historical sex allegations against Trump himself.
The advice doesn't seem to be working. After a long silence on the case, the president did finally imply a guarded measure of support for Moore when reporters confronted him on the issue. 'We don't need a liberal Democrat in the seat,' he proffered , before adding when pressed further about the allegations against the candidate, 'He denies it. He totally denies it'.
The White House strategy had been one of trying to keep a vulnerable Trump out of the fire personally, while sending out assorted aides and lieutenants to face the media. Their default position has involved either sitting on the fence over the allegations against Moore or simply suggesting it's 'down to the voters of Alabama' and not the White House or POTUS himself to pronounce on his electoral fate.
The hugely tricky dilemma is the White House doesn't really want to talk about Roy Moore while badly needing his vote if they are to succeed in their last chance of achieving major legislation – a controversial tax reform bill – before the end of Trump's first 12 months in office.
But some senior GOP figures on Capitol Hill favour the rarely-invoked step of expelling one of their own if Moore does win – a move that could effectively strip the party of its Senate majority.
Significantly, some of those who advocate risking such a step are among those who thwarted Trump's other flagship policy on scrapping Obamacare and are now reluctant to endorse a tax reform programme they see as favouring big corporations and wealthy individuals rather than small enterprises and middle-class voters. Some experts say the planned scrapping of estate tax would benefit the Trump family by more than $1.2 billion after his death!
With Democrats united in opposing the Republican tax plans, the GOP can only afford two defections to get it through a finely-balanced Senate. And if the Alabama polls are right and the Democrats defeat Roy Moore on December 12, their majority will be down to a precarious single vote.
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